Happiness is…

Happiness is… spending time with Jeremy, either playing Mario Kart or swimming, and just having fun. We’ve been going to a different pool lately, one owned by the same landlord but in a nearby building. Jeremy loves it and I love that it’s warmer than ours.

1221 pool

“I’ll race you Mom!”

Happiness is… picking out the perfect presents for Jeremy for Christmas. Yes, I know I shop early. Yes, I know there’s still 130 more days left and it’s still only August. It’s just that Christmas is my favourite holiday of the year and they really will love  all of them.

Happiness is… watching Jeremy’s happiness at finally buying the laptop they’ve been wanting for years. And seeing their confidence bloom again. I’ve watched for several years as Jeremy hid much of their feminine side and today they casually bought a pink and white laptop bag because it’s “perfect” and a hot pink keyfinder button for their keychain.

new laptop

“I am smiling!”

Happiness is… needing to work on a suicide prevention plan and asking friends permission to add them to a contact sheet… then getting so many friends volunteer it might turn into a contact booklet. I don’t know if my friends realize how much this means to me, how much it feels like I’ve been wrapped up in their caring.

Happiness is… going for a whirlwind vacation in just under two weeks and listening to Jeremy chatter about it several times a day. We have so much planned from the butterfly conservatory, to the waterpark, to the antique aerial car over the Niagara whirlpool; I’m not sure how we’re going to fit in sleep.

fallsview waterpark

“I can’t wait until we get there Mom. What do you think we should do first?”

Happiness is… waking up to two adorable kittens snuggled beside me. Their antics amuse me and warm my heart every single day.

Smudge relaxing small

So much adorable in such a small package!

Happiness is having so many things to be happy about 🙂

Which would you choose?

The question was innocent, posed in the form of a meme on Facebook. The choice of two pills, red or blue. One instantly gave you ten million dollars while the other allowed you to go back in time to fix your mistakes.

My first instinct was to chose the ten million. I could pay off our small (but large to us) debt and fly the two of us to England to visit L. We could also afford to go on the big family holiday to Cuba this winter. We could paint our whole apartment, get Jeremy a better computer, and enjoy the rest of our lives. Then I pictured Emma’s arms.

We moved to a big apartment complex when Emma was eight years old and Jeremy was six. We’d loved our old apartment, which was a lot more like a townhouse, but it was only two bedrooms. The new apartment had three bedrooms plus the building had a daycare on the ground floor. At first it seemed like a good move then both kids started getting bullied. Rumours flew around that Emma and Jeremy were having sex with each other. One girl even claimed to see them through Emma’s bedroom window (ignoring the fact she’d need either scaffolding or the ability to fly in order to do so). I told the kids the rumour was too weird to be believed. I was wrong. Years later, Emma was introduced to a friend of a friend and the first comment he made was “aren’t you the girl who had sex with her brother?”. I had to pull Emma off the elementary school bus and sent her via public transit instead while Jeremy was the target of homophobic slurs.

If I could go back in time, I would have stayed put in our small apartment, despite the lack of kids their ages.

Then there’s their father. He still contacts me and attempts a relationship with Jeremy. He comments that he doesn’t understand why I speak to him, mentioning repeatedly how much of an asshole he is. He recounts snippets of conversation with a friend where he admits that he deliberately lied to his father to turn him against me. My ex doesn’t understand why Emma won’t speak to him or even look at him if she runs into him, why she blocked him on the phone and on Facebook. He understands that she’s mad at him for things he did in the past but claims he doesn’t remember any of them so it shouldn’t count.

“Quick! Tell me what you had for breakfast on June 21, 2002. Tell me! You can’t can you. It’s not fair for her to expect me to remember stuff that happened that long ago.”

As if his abuse of her is on par with what I had for breakfast.

One of the worst incidences I remember involved a trip to Wal-Mart. Their father took them to McDonalds and settled them down with a snack while explaining that there was this woman who wouldn’t leave him alone, so he had to lie to her in order to get her to stop calling. He called her repeatedly through their whole visit, leaving them in the restaurant while he went outside to smoke and lie. Both kids insisted he was gone for ages, they were all alone in the store and didn’t know what to do. Then he jaywalked with them across a local highway, with traffic coming from both directions. The kids cried when they told me about it; Emma tearfully describing feeling the wind from a passing car against her feet as they jumped off the road. There was a large, clearly marked intersection not ten feet away. My ex claimed he didn’t see it.

Emma begged for supervised visits, she’d feel so much safer with someone else there to make their Dad behave. Jeremy agreed. I found a local place that offered supervised visits. They would be held in a room with someone taking notes. Emma wasn’t fond of that idea, she liked going out and doing things with her Dad. Maybe Gramma could go on the visits with them. Their Dad was furious at the thought. He would not do supervised visits. If she insisted, he’d never see her again. I wanted to step in and tell him it was an adult decision and had nothing to do with the kids. Emma begged me not to. She needed her Dad and begged me to not set up the supervised visits. I backed down then cringed as he forced her to apologize as if she’d done something wrong.

If I could go back in time I would have stood up and told him “no” more. I would have insisted on the supervised visits. Maybe he would have disappeared, maybe not, but supervision would have helped.

And there was Jeremy whose favourite colour was pink. Zie loved stuffed animals and dinky cars… Barbie and Bob the Builder… playing dress up and driving toy vehicles outside.

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… and sometimes playing dress up while driving toy vehicles

I was bullied all through school. Not teased, bullied. For years I didn’t have a single friend at school and for the handful of years I did, she was too scared to let anyone know we were friends for fear of being ostracized. I’ve been chased down by kids on bikes, spat on, had my coat flushed down the toilet. I’ve hidden from gangs of kids behind car wheels and in stores. I checked my assigned seat daily for spit (and often found it). And I adamantly did not want my children to go through the same experiences.

I didn’t ban Jeremy from taking zir stuffies to school but made it very obvious zie’d be teased if zie did. When zie complained that the boys clothing section was boring and didn’t have any good colours, I agreed and said it was disappointing… ignoring zir looks toward the girl’s section. I definitely didn’t let zir know Lego had sparkly pink and purple kits, even though I knew zie would be over the moon with excitement over them.

If I could go back in time, I’d let the kids chose the colour of their shared room, even though I know Jeremy would have chosen pink. I’d have assured Jeremy that zie could have a pink shirt. I’d have bought the damn Lego and watched Jeremy’s over the moon excitement as zir favourite colours and Lego combined to be the best present ever!

Then I listened to my friends, two of which have lost (and regained) their children through their local children’s protection services this past year. Both solely because they are supporting their child’s gender identity. A third is struggling, being supported by children’s services but floundering with the legal system, also because she’s supporting her child’s gender identity.

The main reason I was worried about pushing my ex too far was the fear he’d get angry enough to retaliate; angry enough to lie repeatedly and often enough to get someone to finance him through court against me. Which is exactly what he did when Emma was thirteen… leading to years of living with my parents and in group homes… and culminating in self harm and a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder.

My friends are fighting in a society where Laverne Cox is winning awards and “I am Jazz” is on the air. They’re fighting while gender conversion therapy is being banned and we have access to a parents of transgender children group with over two thousand members. We moved to the apartment complex in 2004, which means I’d have to go back to 2003.

These days my ex is subdued. His health is poor, he struggles to walk and he’s had multiple strokes and heart attacks. When autism was brought up, he brushed it aside with a laugh and a comment that we always knew Jeremy was different. Court in 2003 was a different story. He was younger, angry, and vindictive. He insisted my diagnosis of apraxia (an oral motor sequencing disorder which causes delayed speech) was wrong. He wanted blood tests, an MRI, a CAT scan, and an EKG; despite the fact no doctor had ever requested any of them. He told the court I was putting the children’s lives at risk by refusing medical help and insisted he needed joint custody to ensure they got the help the needed. The court ruled on a second opinion with a local and well respected paediatrician. My ex agreed then was furious with the doctor, who not only confirmed the diagnosis but informed me that my ex wanted him to say Jeremy’s speech delay was a result of my poor parenting skills. My ex felt his personal attacks against me were supposed to be private and confidential. I’m assuming his lawyer convinced him not to ask for a third opinion.

We live in the Greater Toronto Area. The only doctor in the area who would have taken Jeremy’s case (at the time) would have been Kenneth Zucker. I know for a fact he would have had no difficulty blaming my “poor parenting skills” for Jeremy’s feminine behaviour. It wouldn’t have mattered to my ex that he suggested giving Jeremy zir first Barbie because, in the end, none of his actions were about the kids, they were aimed at getting back at me for daring to leave. The kids were casualties and pawns in his efforts to hurt me and Kenneth Zucker would have helped him right along.

So I’d take the ten million dollars because Jeremy’s sleeping in the room beside me wearing zir favourite lavender pyjamas. Because we’re going to paint zir room purple this weekend and put up purple floral curtains. Because our lives might not be perfect but we’ve made it. I’ll work on the future instead and leave the past where it is.

An open letter to parents…

The first post I saw on Facebook when I got up this morning was this screenshot of a little boy getting in trouble:

Facebook picture

There wasn’t a damn thing I could do as it was a screenshot posted into a group, which meant I didn’t know anyone involved. The picture has haunted me all day; the only thing I can do is write a letter and hope for the best.

 

Dear Parent,

Being a parent is the most rewarding, tiring, frustrating, infuriating, and glorious experience ever. You go into the hospital and after hours of hard work get handed this tiny pinkish bundle. Then you spend the next eighteen or so years raising that bundle into a mature and responsible adult. A lot of parenting ends up being a matter of personal choice. You pick where you’re going to live, the food you eat, religious beliefs, the clothes your child wears, and your basic philosophy in life. But there are some things you can’t chose. You can’t walk up to the doctor and request a tall, red haired, blue eyed baby for example. Some things you just have to accept.

I’m looking at your little boy’s sweet innocent face right now, all wide-eyed and uncertain, not knowing what he did wrong. Statistically speaking, chances are you’re raising a straight little boy, one who’s going to grow up and marry a woman. When you berate him for acting like a girl, you’re telling him that girls are less than boys… weaker… shameful. Is this the message you want to send about his someday bride-to-be? His sisters? His mother? If it’s shameful to act like a girl then it’s shameful to be a girl. That’s a horrible message to give any child.

There’s a good chance your little boy picked up that container of polish simply because he was curious. Little kids love to paint and are attracted to bright shiny colours; that polish was definitely both. Plus nail polish feels nice and cool as the brush slides across your fingernails. But there’s another possibility. Have you heard of pink boys? Pink boys are little boys who enjoy things that are aimed at little girls. They’re the little boys out walking their baby dolls in strollers and asking for Barbies for Christmas. They have Polly Pockets mixed in with their Lego and a small army of stuffed animals cascading across their beds. And statistically speaking, there’s a very good chance they’re going to grow up to be a member of the LGBTQ community. And there is nothing you can do to change this.

If you were told that your child had cancer and there was close to a 50% chance he could die, what would you do? I bet you’d do just about anything to save him. The suicide risk for transgender and gender nonconforming youths is around 47% (30 to 40% for LGB youths). If your child is gay, bisexual, or trans he is going to get bullied. He is going to have teachers, neighbours, and even random strangers make negative comments to him. He has a 1 in 6 chance of being beaten up to the point of needing medical attention. He doesn’t need to be a man, what he needs is you. He needs to know you are behind him ready to support him, ready to defend him if needed. You could end up being the person that keeps him alive.

I will do anything to keep my son alive. I will paint his nails, hug him while he wears a dress and tell him he looks pretty, dye his hair any colour he wants, and print out enough papers to decimate a small forest so his teachers have the information they need to teach him fairly. But that’s my son. Now the question is what are you going to do for yours?

A dress shouldn’t be confusing…

link to article

link to article

I’ve had an interesting time writing this blog post. I originally found an article about little Romeo Clarke which detailed his removal from a playgroup over his love of princess dresses. I added and linked the picture in my post but when I went back to the article for a quote, I found a “Page Not Found” notice; the article had been removed. So it was promptly scrapped. Moments later I realized I still had the photo, which had been titled with the child’s name, and did a quick Google search. Sure enough there were plenty of articles. I set out to browse articles, finding and discarding several before choosing this one.

While the rest of the paper seems rather tabloid-ish and aimed at shocking, this article seems well written and thorough, something several other articles couldn’t say. And it has a video from the Telegraph at the bottom, which I’d wanted to include. I’m warning you in advance, he’s seriously adorable in the video. The above picture, which links to the article, is a still from the video.

Here’s a quote from the Minister in Training of the church running the after school program:

“Buzz Children’s Club seeks to follow our usual safeguarding guidelines and we did so in this case in order to avoid any confusion or possible conflict or teasing from other children.”

As with Grayson and his My Little Pony backpack, it appears their official bullying policy is victim blaming instead of dealing with any issues that might arise. How hard would it be to say “Romeo is a boy who likes wearing princess dresses and that’s fine”? Hopefully Romeo will find a better club to attend.

And kudos to his parents for letting him be himself!

Be a man…

I don’t remember how old Jeremy was. Six? Seven? Eight? Nine? It wasn’t just one conversation, it was a bunch of them, all pretty much the same.

“How do I know if I’m a boy?” Jeremy asked. He sat down on the couch beside me and stared at me intently.

“Well…” I paused, thinking hard. “Do you feel like a boy?”

Jeremy nodded.

“Well you feel like a boy and you’ve got a penis so you’re a boy,” I replied. “That’s not going to just fall off,” I added dryly.

Jeremy looked relieved but still worried.

“Even the doctor agrees you’re a boy,” I continued. A bit more worry faded. Whoever had been bugging him, whether they were a kid or an adult, didn’t have nearly as much authority as our doctor.

“How do I get to be a man?”

I shrugged. “You grow up.”

Jeremy eyed me skeptically and I smiled.

“That’s it,” I assured him. “You’re a boy now and you’ll grow up to be a man. There’s no magic test. You can like pink and play with barbies, you can even wear a dress. As long as you feel like a boy then you’ll grow up to be a man. Everybody grows up; your body will do this all on its own.”

“Really?” Jeremy looked hopeful.

“Yes, really. Now are you going back outside to play?”

Jeremy shook his head. “No, I think I’ll play in my room.”

And off he skipped.

Fast forward to last year. I sent Jeremy out with my debit card to pick up pizza for dinner. He came bounding in, eyes sparkling, two boxes of pizza in his hands.

“Someone told me in the elevator to ‘be a man’,” Jeremy announced. He set the boxes down on the counter and brushed his hair off his face. This was before his teacher brought in classmates to convince him to cut it, so his hair was past his shoulders. He grinned. “I told him I will be a man when I grow up. I’m a boy now so I’ll be a man.”

I still hate the phrases “man up” and “be a man” but I’m glad Jeremy’s confident enough these days to shake them off.

And now I’m going to dye his hair purple. This time I bought the right container. Hopefully it’ll turn out well.

The great toy divide

Lego Ad

This picture and article showed up on my Facebook newsfeed yesterday. When you click, it will open in a separate window. I recommend reading the article first as it has more pictures comparing then and now of specific toys.

I’ve commented before that I read a blog called Raising my Rainbow and how Colin was a lot less girly than C.J. at that age. And in many regards that’s true. Colin loved The Magic School bus and Thomas the Tank Engine when he was little. And dinky cars (the brighter and more metallic the better). He could, and did, drive them around for hours. But, at the same time, toys were a lot more gender neutral. Lego came in bright primary colours and bicycles pretty much did too. The only real difference between a boy’s bike and a girl’s bike were the bars connecting the seat to the handle bars. Colin got Kait’s hand-me-down bikes for years without any comments.

We had dress up clothes in the living room and both my kids loved wearing them but they were odds and ends I’d collected. A sheer sequin covered shawl, a tiara, and some foam masks I picked up at the dollar store. A lavender slip and a lacy nightgown that looked a lot like a wedding dress, both bought from a second hand store. And a pair of ballerina flats because I thought the dollar store high heels were too small and slippery. Both kids had lady bug wings from Halloween costumes and there was a wand kicking around but that was it. Actual costumes were for Halloween and got packed away with the decorations.

I just went through our photo albums. The fanciest their Lego got was a set of Winnie the Pooh Duplo; that came with a handful of plastic flower/leaf shapes and a spiral slide. Otherwise they had riding sticks with plush animal heads, basic Lego, Tinker Toys, Sesame Street figures, Teletubby figures, dinky cars, a Thomas the Tank Engine set, and an Oneida tea set complete with Oreo cookies. The kids played interchangeably with all of them.

Years later, the kids and I were walking through Walmart and I was floored to see Disney princess dress up clothes mixed in with the regular clothes. The boys, of course, had super heroes. This was nowhere near Halloween, these were for every day use. I was floored.

Then my sister got pregnant with her second child. The ultrasound said she was having a girl but there’s always a possibility it’s wrong. I went to Old Navy to pick up a neutral newborn outfit only to find those didn’t exist. I could not buy a pale green or yellow sleeper. They were either pink and labelled princess or blue and red with sports themes. There was no in-between.

I like bright colours and picked bright clothes for my kids. Plus I tend to buy in second hand shops and just pick the ones that appeal to me. Not to say they never wore boys clothes or girls clothes but most of the time they just wore jeans and bright t-shirts. Last time I went clothes shopping with Colin, it was an exercise in frustration for both of us. Literally half the mens department was Duck Dynasty and the rest was camo and dreary. Colin picked out one shirt that he loved but it was hand wash and lay flat to dry, which translates to “this will never be washed”. That won’t work for him. And the younger sections are even worse.

Note, I’m not saying that the past was wonderful. I know it wasn’t. I went to high school in the 1980’s and remember overhearing classmates bragging about driving to downtown Toronto to “throw rocks at the f*gs”. No one came out in high school at all. I had a friend who everyone was pretty sure was gay, and he was, but he certainly didn’t come out then. It wasn’t safe. Meanwhile Kait went to the same high school I did, just twenty years later. She attended a school with pride flag stickers plastered everywhere, announcing this was a safe environment. Several of her friends came out in grade nine.

I can’t help thinking though that we’re making it safer for teens and adults to come out while segregating and compartmentalizing our children. Colin loved pink when he was little, it was his absolute favourite colour. He had several pink stuffed animals and a pink baby stroller for his baby. But that was pretty much it, the rest of their toys came in primary colours. Most of their clothes were in those colours too. I can’t help but wonder what his choices would have been if everything was split between blue/red and super heroes or pink/purple and glitter with nothing in between. No choice to simply be a kid.

Colin was invited to a birthday party when he was four years old. The birthday girl’s mother bought Barbie napkins for the girls and plain blue napkins for the boys. Colin insisted on having a Barbie napkin because pink was his favourite colour. I have a feeling, in this gender oriented marketing environment, he’d probably be almost as pink as C.J.